|Mobile poised for historic cargo
By Kaija Wilkinson
...Four months from now a shipment from Hamburg, Germany, will arrive at the Port
of Mobile with large aircraft components. The cargo, two fuselage sections, wings
and tail assemblies, will have traveled some 5,000 miles over road, land and sea to
make history. They’ll become the first Airbus passenger jet made in America.
The shipment in June will have five major components: rear fuselage, forward
fuselage, wings, vertical tail plane and horizontal tail plane. The largest piece, a 34-
by-70-foot fuselage section, weighs some 28 tons, more than four adult elephants.
But there’s much more that will go into the first plane.
“Thousands of individual parts will come into Mobile from a global supply base by air,
sea and land,” according to Airbus, with many of parts, systems and components
coming from U.S. suppliers, including possibly the engines.
The components that will be shipped from Hamburg in May are built at various
locations in Europe from smaller components from all over the world. The wing
assemblies, for instance, are made in Broughton in Wales, using smaller systems
such as stringers (material joining wing and fuselage) and ribs (the wing’s skeletal,
inner backbone) made elsewhere.
Although major sections are built in Europe, that belies the fact that some 42 percent
of Airbus’ aircraft-related spending on components is with U.S. suppliers. It buys
more parts, tooling and other material from the United States than from any other
In fact, Airbus is the largest export customer for the United States aerospace
industry. Since 1990 it has spent $154 billion with hundreds of U.S. suppliers in more
than 40 states. In 2013 alone, it spent more than $14.4 billion with U.S. companies.
The list includes Alcoa, Eaton, GE, Goodrich, Hamilton Sundstrand, Honeywell,
Northrop Grumman, PPG, Pratt & Whitney, Rockwell Collins and more.
The shipment in June is just the beginning. There will be about one shipment of large
components per month, but that will ramp up over time. By 2018, Airbus anticipates
the Mobile Assembly Line will be producing up to 50 planes annually.
Currently, Airbus plans to use lift on/lift off – or lo/lo vessels, carriers outfitted with
cranes, to load, transport and unload the components. It doesn’t rule out using roll
on/roll off vessels or ro/ro’s, which would entail outfitting components with wheels in
order to roll them on and off, in the future.
Components arriving by lo/lo will be unloaded at the State Docks. The Alabama State
Port Authority, which, thanks in part to improvements such as heavy-lifting cranes
installed several years ago in anticipation of the ThyssenKrupp steel plant, spent
relatively little to prepare for arrival of plane components. Port Authority Director
Jimmy Lyons says about $600,000 went into elevating a single rail crossing to
accommodate vehicles that will carry the components. That, essentially, was all the
preparation needed on the port’s end.
Components will be stored for a few hours or a few days at the state docks before
being transported by truck to a 3,570-square-foot Airbus hangar at the Mobile
Aeroplex. The components will not gather dust in the hangar.
“The intent is to not store anything for any length of time,” Airbus spokeswoman Kristi
Tucker said. “When the pieces come in they should enter the assembly process
Airbus is confident that, once the first shipment of major components arrives, the
$600 million final assembly line will be ready. Mobile's Airbus site is 53 acres of
buildings, aprons and roadways contained within a 116 acre site. Work remaining as
of late January:
-- Jesco Inc. is leading construction of a $13 million paint shop hangar that will be
operated by Ireland’s MAAS Aviation Services. The shop will be finished in July and
ultimately will employ 34 people.
-- Italy's Comau Aerospace is supplying the main assembly and test stations,
including all jigs and tooling for every station at the Mobile plant. Its work will continue
to the first quarter of 2016. It also plans to open an integration center near the plant
that will offer full project support.
-- Work is underway on the center where customers will take delivery of their aircraft.
It’s scheduled to be finished by May, but won’t be equipped or occupied until the end
of the year.
Hiring is also keeping pace. As of February 1 about 150 people had been hired.
“We’re on time and on track to complete construction as planned in order to begin
receiving components this summer, and to deliver our first aircraft in 2016,” Tucker
said. “Our customers expect on-time delivery of their aircraft, and we intend to meet
The first customer is New York-based JetBlue, which is scheduled to take delivery in
April 2016 of the first Mobile-built passenger jet, an A321 with a list price of $113.7
The delivery phase itself will be spread out over four or five days and includes
ground checks, an acceptance flight, completion of technical acceptance and
finishing paperwork, including documents attesting compliance and title transfer,
before the jet heads for its home base.
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